I Want My VOD: October 2011

by Ethan Alter October 13, 2011 9:00 am
I Want My VOD: October 2011

Lars von Trier imagines the end of the world, an aspiring Irish musician dreams of killing the Emerald Isle's biggest rock god and Scarface goes to the Congo in this month's crop of VOD titles.

The latest opus from Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier opens and closes with nothing short of the end of the world, as our blue world collides with a drifting planet called Melancholia and promptly explodes in a blinding flash of light. Believe it or not, these bookended scenes are probably the most uplifting moments in the entire film. Von Trier has famously wrestled with crippling depression during the past few years and his own struggles clearly inform the plight of his main character, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) a young woman unable to experience any joy in life, even on what's supposed to be the happiest of days: her wedding. That event is chronicled in the first of the movie's two chapters, beginning with Justine and her new hubby Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) arriving late to their own reception, held at a lavish castle owned by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her own perpetually tense significant other, John (Kiefer Sutherland). While the blushing bride appears ecstatic at first, as the evening wears on she disappears back into herself, unable to cope with the pomp and pageantry surrounding her. Picking up an unspecified amount of time after that fiasco of a night, Chapter 2 finds a near-catatonic Justine moving in to live with Claire and John, who hope they can help her defeat her depression. But their attention is routinely diverted by news of Melancholia, which is on a collision course for Earth, although John keeps citing "expert" reports that the planet will pass by harmlessly. As Claire descends into terror and panic, Justine actually improves, accepting her impending doom and moving towards a serene kind of grace. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro, Melancholia is Von Trier's most intensely emotional (not to mention deeply personal) film in quite some time and avoids the same calculated provocations that made movies like Antichrist and Dogville loved and hated in equal measure. Dunst deservedly won a Best Actress prize at Cannes for her raw, affecting performance and the supporting cast backs her up quite well. Melancholia has been overshadowed somewhat by von Trier's innate ability for putting his foot in his mouth, but don't let his poor judgment during press conferences keep you from seeking out this film. It's another unique, challenging piece of work from one of the world's most consistently creative filmmakers. (Available via Magnolia on Demand, iTunes, Amazon and PlayStation; opens in limited theatrical release on November 11).
Best Scene: The literal symphony of destruction that opens the movie, a slow-motion montage of apocalyptic imagery scored to the soaring sounds of Wagner.

Killing Bono
I spent the entirety of this Irish rock 'n' roll comedy assuming that the whole thing was a put-on. Set during the early '80s, the movie begins by dramatizing the origins of a little Irish rock band known as U2 before shifting its focus to two rockers that existed in their shadow: Neil and Ivan McCormick (played by Ben Barnes and Robert Sheehan respectively). According to the film's version of events, the McCormick brothers attended the same school as Bono, The Edge and the Other Guys and, in fact, Neil kept Ivan from joining the band so that they could continue playing together. Then the U2 juggernaut took off, while the McCormick's struggled to find paying gigs and land a big-time record deal. And even when they achieved a modicum of success, Neil would find a way to screw things up. Eventually, he becomes so consumed by guilt and jealousy that he seriously contemplates firing a bullet into Bono's heart while the rock god is temporarily back on Irish soil -- hence the title. When the movie was finished, I did a little Googling and was surprised to discover that it was true... well, some of it anyway. Neil and Ivan McCormick are real blokes who really did go to school with the members of U2 and Ivan was even briefly part of an early version of the band before having to step down since he wasn't old enough to legally perform in pubs alongside the rest of the group. The McCormick brothers also really did try to launch their own music career without much success. And that's basically where reality and fiction part ways. The real Neil never convinced an Irish gangster to bankroll his band; he never fell for a wisecracking American girl (Krysten Ritter, soon to be seen in one of our favorite midseason shows, Don't Trust the B---ch in Apartment 23); and, most of all, never attempted to assassinate Bono. But all of that makes for a good rock pic, right? Yeah, mostly. Killing Bono's rise-and-fall arc is a little predictable, but the cast is spirited and U2 fans should get a kick out of the references to the band's early days. Just don't confuse its version of events with what actually happened. (Available via Movies On Demand; in limited theatrical release on November 4.)
Best Scene: The Boy Who Will Be Bono grandly announces his new moniker and the band's new name to his friends while riding a double decker bus home from a big gig.

The Pack
The spirit of early Sam Raimi is strong within this French creature feature, which underlines its horror elements with a strong streak of humor. While driving solo through the European countryside on a post-breakup road trip, rebel girl Charlotte (Emile Dequenne) picks up a hitchhiker Max (Benjamin Biolay), who guides her to an isolated rest stop for a bathroom break and a bite to eat. Not surprisingly, this turns out to be a bad move on her part, since Max is the son the of the pit stop's proprietor and they have a long-standing practice of kidnapping wayward travelers to serve as a food source for... well, I'm not going to give that part away. (I will mention that Charlotte and Max are also pursued by a roving gang of bikers -- one of the two "packs" of the film's title -- that go from enemies to comrades-in-arms when the supernatural shit hits the fan. Writer/director Franck Richard makes the most of his limited budget and locations and kudos to his makeup crew for the terrific design of the creatures themselves. If you think they don't make horror movies like The Evil Dead anymore, think again. (Available via Movies on Demand)
Best Scene: In an overt nod to Raimi, Richard shoots one scene through the hole left in a victim's stomach by a monster attack.

In the tradition of Richard Linklater's classic indie talk-a-thon Before Sunrise, the micro-budget British film Weekend follows two people who meet unexpectedly and share a brief, but intense relationship that will linger long in both of their memories. Russell (Tom Cullen) crosses paths with Glen (Chris New) while enjoying a Friday night out at a local nightclub. Something sparks right away and the two fall into bed together; instead of going their separate ways the morning after, they start a conversation that continues for the rest of the weekend, with the occasional time out for eating, grooming and more lovemaking. Why are they so intent on spending as much time together as possible? Well, they enjoy each other's company, but, more crucially, Glen is leaving for a two-year trip abroad come Monday morning and the chances of them seeing each other again are slim to none. (Although even Jesse and Celine eventually reunited a decade after their magical night in Vienna.) While not as swoon-inducing as Before Sunrise, Weekend is an agreeably low key slice-of-life story distinguished by strong performances and a keen eye for the way romances can flourish in the oddest of ways. (Available via IFC on Demand; currently playing in limited theatrical release.)
Best Scene: After their first night together, Glen turns on his tape recorder and gets Russell to open up about their encounter and his own feelings about being gay.

Viva Riva!
Curious what a Congolese Scarface might look like? Here's your chance to find out. Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Djo Munga, Viva Riva! introduces us to small-time hood Riva (Patsha Bay), who has brazenly stolen a lucrative supply of fuel from an Angolan crime syndicate and returns to his hometown, Kinshasa, to sell it to the highest bidder. Once there, he happens to spot the gorgeous Nora (Manie Malone), moll to one of the city's biggest gangsters. Never one to back down from a challenge, Riva ardently pursues Nora even if it puts him on her boyfriend's bad side. Meanwhile, the Angolans that he ripped off turn up in Kinshasa looking for a little payback. As you can imagine, by the time the movie is over, a lot of people wind up dead, often in bloody, gruesome ways. In terms of its story, Viva Riva! doesn't offer anything new, but the exotic -- for Western audiences at least -- location enlivens the routine proceedings, though it must be said that the movie's relentless cruelty and casual misogyny do grow wearying after awhile. The again, the same could be said about Scarface. (Available via Movies On Demand; also available on DVD)
Best Scene: The final face-off between Riva and the Angolans, which doesn't end the way you necessarily expect.

The Green
Directed by soap opera veteran Steve Williford and written by -- I kid you not -- Paul Marcarelli a.k.a. the "Can You Hear Me Now" Verizon guy, The Green sets up an intriguing dilemma only to abandon it in its third act. Years ago, longtime couple Michael (Jason Butler Harner) and Daniel (Cheyenne Jackson) chose to trade life in the Big Apple for a more sedate existence in small-town Connecticut. So far, it's worked out well for them; they own their own house, have a large circle of friends and are gainfully employed in jobs they love -- Daniel as a caterer and Michael as a high-school teacher. But when one of Michael's students accuses him of sexual misconduct, they are tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion before the case even makes it to court. Early on, Marcarelli's script offers up some intriguing twists and turns and smartly refrains from turning Michael into a plaster saint. Too bad that he can't maintain the story's momentum through its final half-hour, cobbling together a contrived resolution that essentially lets all parties (save one) off the hook. It's a too-easy conclusion to a story that otherwise touches on several complex issues. (Available via Movies On Demand starting October 18.)
Best Scene: Michael finally reveals to his partner a damaging secret about his past that he's kept hidden for years.

Also on VOD:
Movies On Demand: Ten years ago, a Joel Schumacher-directed home invasion thriller starring Oscar winners Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman would only be viewable in theaters nationwide. Today, Trespass is being dumped onto only a handful of screens at the same time it arrives on all the major VOD platforms. For Cage and Kidman completists only.
IFC on Demand: If you can't bring yourself to see The Human Centipede II in theaters, the good folks at IFC are letting you watch it in the privacy of your own home, where you can conveniently hit pause whenever the carnage gets too intense.
Magnolia on Demand: Sam Shepard plays an elderly Butch Cassidy in the well-reviewed Western Blackthorn. Sundance Kid not included.




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